Here's what it looks like to get flung from a centrifuge at 1,000 mph

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 3,493   +1,040
Staff member
The big picture: Getting satellites into orbit is expensive. Each launch consumes tons of fuel, and missions can only occur once every few months. A company called SpinLaunch wants to eventually be able to launch multiple satellites per day, primarily using kinetic energy produced by a colossal centrifuge.

Last year, a space startup called SpinLaunch completed work on a prototype centrifuge in New Mexico capable of spinning an object at up to 10,000 Gs and launching it into the air. The company's stated purpose was to eventually build an enormous kinetic cannon that could launch satellites into space.

Since October, SpinLaunch has performed eight test flights. It equipped the latest with a camera, providing the first look (above) at what it would be like to get shot tens of thousands of meters into the air from the prototype model (below). As expected, it would be a vomit-inducing trip.

Like a football or a bullet, the most efficient and stable method to travel through air is using a spiral. The launcher's projectiles are shaped like large bullets or small three-meter-long missiles. The fins on the payload are angled to produce this spin.

The "optical payload" left the cannon — the A-33 Suborbital Mass Accelerator — at 1,600km/h (nearly 1,000mph). The entire trip lasted for 82 seconds, with the projectile reaching over 7,620 meters (25,000 feet). Interestingly, the launch only used a small fraction of the A-33's power.

The optical payload test gave engineers the first look from the projectile's point of view, which is exciting. More importantly, the test shows that electronics can survive the tremendous G-forces and launch from the barrel — a problem the company had been concerned about since the conceptual stage. So the camera also served as a proof of concept.

SpinLaunch's full-scale L100 Orbital Mass Accelerator will be three times bigger than A-33. It will be capable of flinging a 200 kg (441 lb) satellite at 8,000 km/h (5,000 mph) to near-orbital altitudes before rocket engines engage to complete the flight and stabilize the satellite's orbit.

In April, NASA contracted SpinLaunch to perform a suborbital launch and recovery of specially developed test equipment. The test flight is slated for later this year. If all goes well, NASA will consider other possible tests with an eventual orbital launch after the L100 is operational.

SpinLaunch has not officially announced where it is building the L100, saying only that "the first Orbital Launch Site is in final selection in a soon-to-be-disclosed location in a coastal region of the United States." However, a conceptual image (above) has a file name containing "Alaska_Orbital_Wide." Presumably, Alaska is at least a candidate location.

Construction should complete in the next couple of years since the startup plans to start commercial launches in 2025. In the meantime, engineers will use the suborbital prototype to run one or two tests per month at gradually faster speeds and with varying payloads.

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VitalyT

Posts: 6,231   +6,760
I thought before, and I still think this is the most laughable project that will never achieve its goal. The G-force needed at ground to launch anything into space would destroy any projectile.
 

Plutoisaplanet

Posts: 694   +1,089
I thought before, and I still think this is the most laughable project that will never achieve its goal. The G-force needed at ground to launch anything into space would destroy any projectile.
Not only that, but you're fighting air resistance at its densest at your highest velocity. And if something goes wrong with the centrifuge (remember there are rocket engines with combustible fuel on-board), then the result may be a cannon pointing in the wrong direction. Oof.
 

ZedRM

Posts: 1,027   +724
I thought before, and I still think this is the most laughable project that will never achieve its goal. The G-force needed at ground to launch anything into space would destroy any projectile.
Not only that, but you're fighting air resistance at its densest at your highest velocity. And if something goes wrong with the centrifuge (remember there are rocket engines with combustible fuel on-board), then the result may be a cannon pointing in the wrong direction. Oof.
The two of you seem to be misunderstanding why the science behind this launch platform is sound. The physics calculations says it's viable and this test launch, which exceeded expectations, proves it.
 

mbk34

Posts: 308   +202
Not only that, but you're fighting air resistance at its densest at your highest velocity. And if something goes wrong with the centrifuge (remember there are rocket engines with combustible fuel on-board), then the result may be a cannon pointing in the wrong direction. Oof.
I think they already have laser guided artillery shells where the electronics happily survive being fired out of the gun. They are currently developing extended range artillery shells that use ram jets to quadruple the range of current shells. Obviously you have to reach a certain speed to get into orbit and you'd also need to carry oxygen for the last part of the burn but it doesn't sound impossible.
 

VitalyT

Posts: 6,231   +6,760
The two of you seem to be misunderstanding why the science behind this launch platform is sound. The physics calculations says it's viable and this test launch, which exceeded expectations, proves it.
Calculations done by some science quacks, not somebody reputable.
 

RudyBob

Posts: 561   +521
Well it's really cool no doubt. There will be a law suit from the man in the moon when he gets it in the eye though. How many satellites can near space hold?
 

ZedRM

Posts: 1,027   +724
Calculations done by some science quacks, not somebody reputable.
When NASA is backing the project, you can conclude the project has merit. When a test like this exceeds expectations, you can conclude the project has merit. When you see a video of the launch from the launch vehicle itself, you can conclude the project has merit.

Your misinformed opinions will not hold the project back. Denying reality, much like a flat-earther, will not hold the project back.
 

Scott Barnes

Posts: 22   +22
Not only that, but you're fighting air resistance at its densest at your highest velocity. And if something goes wrong with the centrifuge (remember there are rocket engines with combustible fuel on-board), then the result may be a cannon pointing in the wrong direction. Oof.
The Mk.7 16 inch guns aboard the USS Missouri were firing 2240lb (~1020Kg) APHE shells over 20 miles (~32Km) at effectively sea level during WW2 (more recently during desert storm). These shells would experience G loading well in excess of 1000Gs while not destroying their relatively delicate internal fuse mechanisms. Relative to a human bodies tolerance the G load of this accelerator is very high but easily within tolerance for most payloads already being sent into space (not suitable for the delicate optics or finely calibrated instruments of a scientific mission). A falcon 9 heavy pulls over 6G on the average orbital burn and that's just for fuel efficiency and mechanical sympathy purposes.

The suggestion regarding air resistance is certainly a valid one especially considering that the companies official art work actually shows their eventual full size accelerator sitting at sea level on an island. The obvious choice would be to build this thing on an industrial estate somewhere near Cusco, Peru. Nearly 4km of initial altitude would make a hell of a difference to the electric bill per launch as the bell curve of fluid density is already on your side at that elevation.

https://www.navalgazing.net/Ballist... the range tables for air density corrections.

 

VitalyT

Posts: 6,231   +6,760
When NASA is backing the project, you can conclude the project has merit. When a test like this exceeds expectations, you can conclude the project has merit. When you see a video of the launch from the launch vehicle itself, you can conclude the project has merit.

Your misinformed opinions will not hold the project back. Denying reality, much like a flat-earther, will not hold the project back.
NASA has been backing a lot of failed projects. And "exceeded expectations" of a nonsense project is like something that's 100 times better than zero.

When a projectile falls onto your house, you'll see the merit.
 

waclark

Posts: 348   +236
Reminds me of the Moon is a Harsh Mistress, where the use kinetic launchers to drop rocks back on earth.
 

Scott Barnes

Posts: 22   +22
It's roughly 180km to orbit which means that even with a drift error of 50% (which would be extreme) the danger zone surrounding the launch facility would have a radius of ~90km. Most launch facilities are well off by themselves for exactly this type of safety buffer. There is always a chance that a launch vehicle could go directly perpendicular to its intended trajectory but that is a really low statistical probability to the point where you've got a much better chance of being in a fatal car accident or some other mundane thing causing your demise.

There is a question about the nose cone of the vehicle being ejected to a safe return orbit though as anything that can handle moving out through the atmosphere at the kinds of velocities this system will attain should also be able to handle re-entry. We have been dropping chunks of launch systems into the oceans for over 60 years at this point though so I'm confident that they have a few options sorted for that eventuality.

A good analogue for some of the issues folks are citing around this launch system were sorted out during the cold war by the US development of the "Sprint" missiles of the Nike-X missile defense system. These were designed to take out incoming ICBM's at over 45,000ft and they could accelerate from 0 to mach 10 in 5 seconds pulling over 100G (just let that level of acceleration marinate for a moment!), these were nuclear tipped defensive missles that were radio controlled and designed to have an effective blast radius to disable ICBM's (think squirrel hunting with an 8 gauge shotgun and you're just about there in concept). These had an ablative nose cone made of wound glass fibres to handle the extreme temperatures of several thousand degrees generated by atmospheric friction, 3-4 seconds after launch the nose cones began glowing white hot due to friction. There is nothing else we have ever developed that goes down range like a sprint missle, at least that is as of yet in the public theatre. This was all designed in the early 1960's, suffice to say it was spectacularly impressive tech then and still today.

 

MakeMSGreatAgain

Posts: 20   +18
I predict this to be used as the next fun testing method... just like the "will it blend?" or "will it run Crysis?", next will be "will it spin?" If something passes the test then it can be considered a worthy product. :D
 

Tantor

Posts: 314   +577
I suspect this is related to the new US Space Force. It will be used to inexpensively launch large numbers of 'Rods of God'. They will be permanently positioned in geosynchronous orbit over large cities, strategic choke points and potential hotspots.

A single 'rod of god' could easily take out large high value targets like a carrier, or penetrate the deepest bunkers. There is no defence, other than speed. But even that might be irrelevant if the rods can maneuver. I wouldn't be surprised if the Russian cruiser Moskva was taken out by a NATO rod of god. These things could be more significant than nukes. In other words, first use could be seen as equivalent to a nuke.

Orbiting rods are probably very difficult to destroy with conventional weapons. Lasers may be the only way.

Russia, China, and India probably have similar devices. This may be what Putin was alluding to when he said that Russia has weapons that the US has never even seen. Heck, it may be that some of the Russian missile strikes in the Ukraine were actually rods of god. Russia has so much land area that they could hide several large catapults under ground and saturate space above with rods.

We're entering an entirely new era.
 
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If spin up is slow and gradual, power consumption can be easily managed, even powered by renewables like hydro (waterwheel), wind or solar. Linear acceleration is very low too. Only centripetal acceleration needs to be high. Air density at launch point helps with generating spiral and initial stabilization. Calculate the g force of a 4' to 6' fall onto a concrete floor and you'll be impressed at how well electronics hold up. Since it's not impact, energy absorption is easier.
 

BigRedPDX

Posts: 271   +191
The only way I can see this working is if the projectile is in a vacuum chamber prior to liftoff. Have to dampen the G forces as much as possible as to not ruin the cargo. They have a lot of work to go, but it's great concept.
 

Scott Barnes

Posts: 22   +22
The only way I can see this working is if the projectile is in a vacuum chamber prior to liftoff. Have to dampen the G forces as much as possible as to not ruin the cargo. They have a lot of work to go, but it's great concept.
The centrifuge is kept near or at an internal vacuum, there have been a few videos from space and technology Youtubers showing this. The launch tube for the projectile is actually covered by a disposable cover/membrane that is like the top of a pringles can which is where the debris seen in the test video comes from.
 

defaultluser

Posts: 410   +332
So, if you can fling ballistic ;loads into the atmosphere multiple times a day, how I that any different from a super-gun like Project Babylon?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Babylon

If they actually succeed, expect every country on earth's intelligence department making a beeline for securing/killing all the members of that group

Musk is not in danger like this, because falcon 9 still costs tens of millions to build, and needs 30 days to reload.
 

Endymio

Posts: 1,507   +1,449
Like a football or a bullet, the most efficient and stable method to travel through air is using a spiral...
A few errors in this article; this is one of the largest. It conflates spiralling with spin, for one, and even spin doesn't improve the efficiency of the travel, but simply its stability -- due to the angular momentum imparted by the spin.